Has parity been given the boot this year in Winston Cup?
Photo by CIA Stock Photo
As I watch the 2003 Winston Cup
season unfold, I can’t help but think there is an
unmistakably common theme in most of the races. It appears
to me that there is a widening gap between the haves and the
After coming to this
unscientific conclusion in my head, I felt the need to pull
out some statistics and prove my thesis before spouting off
to anyone else. As they say, go with your first instinct,
which showed that I wasn’t imagining the disparity in
Winston Cup racing. So let’s look at some of the numbers.
The first obvious disparity is
in the point’s standings. After week seven in 2002, first
place Sterling Marlin was leading fifth place Mark Martin by
144 points. Skip forward to this year, and we find that Matt
Kenseth is leading fifth place Jimmie Johnson by a 205-point
margin. Okay, so that may not be an overly convincing
tell-all stat, as it is only a difference of 61 points.
Still, that is a 42% increase in point margin.
Let’s look at the second
disparity between the performance statistics from this year
and last year. The number of DNFs (did not finish) in a race
should give an indication that certain race teams may be
struggling. Drivers do not finish races due to mechanical
problems or accidents. For the first seven weeks of 2002,
there were a total of 36 DNFs, or an average of 6 per race.
In 2003, there have been 56 DNFs for an average of over 9
per race. That means that three additional cars are not
finishing each race this year. In case you’re checking my
math, I had to discount the Daytona race because it was
significantly shortened by rain this year. So you’re still
not convinced and you say there is too much statistical
variation involved with DNFs to use that in an argument for
disparity? Then perhaps we should look at one more statistic
that helps confirm my theory.
It seems to be common sense that
the number of cars ending the race on the lead lap is a good
indication of the level of competition. If more drivers
finish on the lead lap, it could be logically concluded that
parity was achieved. But as more back marker teams fall
behind during a race, there is more disparity in the field,
showing a more varied degree of competition. The latter of
those two conditions seems to be the norm this season.
Through week 7 of 2002, there were an average of 16 cars
ending the race on the lead lap. In 2003, there has been an
average of only 10 cars on the lead lap. That means that six
additional cars are falling at least a lap down as compared
to last year. That is a substantial number in the argument
Maybe one or even two of these
stats would not conclusively convince someone that there is
a higher level of disparity in Winston Cup this year. I
think the three stats combined leave no doubt regarding the
presence of disparity. The question is, will it continue?
Dale Jarrett felt the bite at Bristol earlier this year.
Photo by Wieck
You could spend weeks debating
why this disparity exists now. There are several theories,
from lack of sponsorship money to bad weather to shuffled
crews to a lack of a bumper crop of rookies in 2003. The
fact is, NASCAR spent a lot of effort during the off-season
to bring the common template into effect for 2003. This was
for the sole purpose of projecting parity onto the playing
field. So far this year this hasn’t seemed to be the case.
However, the season is only 20% complete and there are 29
remaining contests to be held. It is entirely possible that
we are currently in some form of statistical “twilight zone”
anomaly, and that the numbers will right themselves by
season’s end. Then again, the disparity statistics could
extrapolate through the remainder of the year and we could
end up with all kinds of ugly results, but if I wanted to
see that I could just become a fan of F-1 or CART. Let’s
hope for everyone’s sake that the 2003 season swings back
towards that goal of parity.
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